LINCOLN, Neb. – The No. 1 Nebraska volleyball team navigated its non-conference schedule unscathed after closing out that portion by winning the Ameritas Players Challenge in its own building. However, the Huskers did lose their second set of the season and were pushed by in-state foe Creighton in the tournament finale on Saturday night.
“I knew Creighton was going to stress us,” Coach John Cook said. “It’s always hard to play them because the psychology of the whole match. I was hoping we would get tested and we did. It was really good how we responded and I think it was good for us to go through that and the fact that we did it, I think Creighton is going to have a great season. I think it was really good preparation going into this week because we’re going to have to win close games. It always comes down to close games on these road trips in the Big Ten.”
The Huskers open up Big Ten play with one of those road trips as they will travel to Ann Arbor to face Michigan on Friday before swinging through East Lansing for a showdown with Michigan State on Saturday. Nebraska will also play a mid-week game next week as Illinois will welcome the reigning national champions to Champaign on Wednesday night.
“Three road matches to open the Big Ten, it’s a great challenge for us,” Cook said. “Hopefully it’s going to bring out the best in us.”
Cook said before the season that he thinks winning the Big Ten might be more of a challenge than winning the national championship, and he wasn’t backing off that statement at all as the Huskers are preparing to begin that journey. Cook said during his press conference that the Big Ten might have the nation’s top three teams when the new poll came out, and he was spot on as Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin are 1-2-3 in this week’s AVCA poll.
“Nine teams ranked in the top 27 or whatever it is, you have to go back-to-back on the road – back-to-back nights, it’s over 10 weeks,” Cook said. “You can’t have a bad weekend because it will cost you the championship. I just think it’s a longer, tougher test.”
A bad weekend cost the Huskers last season as the Golden Gophers and Badgers both came to Lincoln and went home victorious midway through Big Ten play and Minnesota went on to edge the Huskers by one game for the conference title. Of course, the Huskers haven’t lost since.
>> Replay is becoming a bigger part of college volleyball as the season goes on, and the Creighton-Nebraska match included five of them. Cook said the change is good for the sport, but that its implementation probably needs a few tweaks.
“I just think they take too much time to figure it out,’ Cook said. “I mean, just put it up on the big screen and let the crowd go thumbs up, thumbs down. Those refs take forever; I think there should be a time limit on it.”
>> Cook named junior setter Kelly Hunter team captain prior to the season, and he said he couldn’t be more pleased with how she has handled that role on a team with sky-high expectations.
“She’s awesome,” Cook said. “She’s driving the bus … She says all the right things, she knows when to say them; I’ve been really impressed with her as a captain and leader. It’s just part of her DNA … she’s a very natural leader.”
That translates to her play on the court as well, as she has done a masterful job of keeping all of her hitters involved and spreading the love around.
“Our balance is incredible … I don’t even talk to her about that,” Cook said. “It’s just a natural feel … It’s a feel for who they’re setting and how many times they’re setting, and she has that.”
>> One area the Huskers have struggled a bit in this season has been the back-row attack, but junior outside hitter Annika Albrecht changed that this past weekend.
“I think Anni had six kills and no errors in nine attempts [from the back row],” Cook said. “We’ll take that.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.